I have to say – I’ve always liked that about you.
My own idea of what it means to help others has evolved over the years and there is an aphorism (supposedly an Arabian Proverb, though I can’t find its source) which I think gets to the heart of what it means to really do humanitarian work – “A promise is a cloud; fulfillment is rain.”
The more I live, the more wisdom I find in this idea. Whenever you want to put your shoulder to some of the harder problems of this world, I’ve learned that it’s best to temper your altruism and desire to help with your reason and by making a sober analysis of the work. After all, anyone can claim to make positive change in this world – so it’s important to look closely at what they’re actually doing. I think you have to ask yourself: What is their actual record? Are they making any real impact?
Perhaps this is part of the bargain we all should make whenever we decide to get involved. Bad Non-Profits divert resources from good ones. They make people more cynical.
Insisting that humanitarian organizations are actually delivering on what they promise isn’t easy. But let’s face it: The world has enough clouds floating through it.
It needs more rain.
These days, I’m supporting excellent non-profits with a proven record of putting projects in the field. I am particularly interested in helping groups which:
- Improve Access To Information, Education, and Entrepreneurship;
- Directly relieve suffering;
- Act to protect the interests of ordinary people.
- Do work related to issues that have impacted my life;
So… let me mention a few to you here. Like my conception of “helping” has changed over time, I hope that this list will evolve as my understanding of the world grows and my experiences strengthen my judgment about who is doing real work. As with anything, please don’t take my word for it – do some research before giving your time or money to anyone.1
Groups Addressing Basic Human Needs
Food, water, shelter.
Splash is a Seattle-based group with a clear mission: Provide clean water for kids. They’re operating in a half-dozen countries and I like their approach to transparency, sharing the things that don’t work as well as well as talking about their successes.
Non-Profit Groups in Laos
I first visited Laos in 2010, returned in 2011, and moved there for a year in 2013. My wife Lauren and I were drawn to Laos for a number of reasons – but it was primarily because of the kind, resourceful people we met there whose culture and resilient spirit we greatly admire. Based on our personal experiences, we can recommend the following groups:
I’ve known Carol Kresge for several years now and have personally seen how her @My Library has helped ignite the imagination and skill development of hundreds of students in Luang Prabang, Laos.
The Book Boat
The Book Boat is a collaboration between CLI and Chantha Soulingasack, a Librarian in Luang Prabang, Laos. I’ve seen Chantha build her library up over years, one step at a time. One of her terrific programs involves bringing books to rural students who have no library nearby.
Legacies of War
Legacies of War was founded ten years ago by my friend Channapha Khamvongsa. Its mission: Address the problem of unexploded cluster bombs in Laos, provide space for healing the wounds of war, and create greater hope for a future of peace. Channapha and her team advocate tirelessly in order to connect people, the media, governments, and non-governmental organizations with an awareness of the people of Laos and their needs.
Education / Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D)
PhotoForward works in partnership with community-based organizations, social service agencies, and public schools to develop arts and media programs in communities that face dire economic and social inequality. It is a group working to empower artists of all ages to share their own stories through photography, visual arts, community art, and creative writing. My friend Allison Milewski is the founder of PhotoForward and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the photographers she’s assisted to document their experiences.
World Possible is a nonprofit organization that offers free digital libraries for communities without reliable internet access. I’ve talked to some of the people behind this project and I’m impressed both by their commitment and by their ability to deliver educational resources to a growing number of communities.
The Ponheary Ly Foundation
Many impoverished children in rural Cambodia don’t have access to crucial items needed to attend primary school–uniforms and school supplies. The Ponheary Ly Foundation provides these “school bundles” to children who would otherwise not be able to afford them.
Ushahidi is a non-profit tech company which specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping.
Protecting People From Power
Electronic Frontier Foundation
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development. If you want to push back against illegal government intrusion into the private lives of citizens, the EFF is a great group to support.
National Brain Tumor Society
My father died of a brain tumor in 2001; He was only 56 years old. The National Brain Tumor Society acts as an information clearinghouse for patients and their families and provides stimulus to treatment research and public policy.